The Impact of Eliot's Early Poetics on Modern Anglo-American Criticism

By An, Qi | Studies in Literature and Language, March 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Eliot's Early Poetics on Modern Anglo-American Criticism


An, Qi, Studies in Literature and Language


Abstract

Even in modern times, Eliot's early poetics have retained their influence on the transformation and development of Anglo-American criticism. Broadly speaking, Eliot's impersonal theory, his reinterpretation of literary tradition, his rewriting of English poetic history within the theoretical framework of "mechanism of sensibility", and his "objective correlative" greatly affected Anglo-American literary criticism in the 20th century. In the exploration of the impact of Eliot's early poetics on Anglo-American modern criticism and in the pursuit of a better understanding of the important theoretical issues involved in American and English criticism, researchers will find an objective evaluation of Eliot's contributions to criticism to be of considerable utility.

Key words: Eliot; Impersonality; Objective correlative; Modern Anglo-American criticism

AN Qi (2014). The Impact of Eliot's Early Poetics on Modern Anglo-American Criticism. Studies in Literature and Language, 8(2), 82-86. Available from: http://www.cscanada.net/index.php/sll/article/view/4530 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/4530

INTRODUCTION

T. S. Eliot's poetics have had a profound impact upon the English poetic style, with his early poetics deeply affecting 20th century Anglo-American literary criticism. Through The Sacred Wood (1920) and Selected Essays (1932), Eliot established a new standard for the transformation and development of Anglo-American literary criticism. Therefore, to explore the impact of Eliot's early poetics on modern Anglo-American criticism, and to better understand the important theoretical issues involved in American and British criticism, researchers will find it helpful to objectively evaluate Eliot's contributions to criticism.

1. ELIOT'S IMPERSONAL THEORY

From the outset of his career as a literary critic, Eliot's views were essentially consistent with the anti-romanticism prevalent in his time; however, with time going on, his critical position gradually evolved. Before Eliot, T. E. Hulme had predicted that there would be a poetry revolution in the near future when he stated, in an article entitled Romanticism and Classicism (1914), "I want to maintain that after a hundred years of romanticism, we are in for a classical revival" (Hulme, 1971). If people say that Hulme forecasted a poetry reformation, then Eliot raised doubts about the representation theory of romanticism, elaborately illustrating his impersonality of poetry in his early paper entitled as Tradition and Individual Talent (1917). Eliot emphasized that "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality" (Eliot, 1932, p.21). He thought poetry was not the direct representation of life experience, nor the pure expression of the poet's feelings, but the domain of art in which the poet's personality is isolated from his life. As he mentioned, "for my meaning is, that the poet has, not a 'personality' to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways. Impressions and experiences which are important for the man may take no place in the poetry, and those which become important in the poetry may play quite a negligible part in the man, the personality." (pp.19-20) That meant that the poet's psychological process is isolated from his personality. Feelings, impressions and experience in poetry differ from the poet's direct feelings, impressions and experience in life. The poet's feelings, impressions and experiences in life are crude and mediocre, but in poetry, they must be produced artistically. Thus, "emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal." (p.22)

It is worthy of note that Eliot compared a "catalyst" to the creative process involved in poetry: when we put platinum into a container with oxygen and sulfur dioxide, these two gases combine to form sulfuric acid, but the platinum remains unaffected and retains its neutrality. …

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